3.1 Working with students and researchers?

Requests usually don't match one on one with research proposals. It is important to have a good "articulation phase", in which you try to map the real issue for your client, and identify context and possible stakeholders. Also check what information your partner has or can make available. You can then do some preliminary research in scientific journals, the internet or newspaper databases to find a direction towards answering the request. Some countries have databases on experts and public research as well. You can then decide if research will be of use to answer the question at all. 

The next step is to find the required disciplines. E.g. environmental issues can have a chemical part, but also a health, legal, social, or economic part. If your institute can supply research capacity in this discipline, you can make a research proposal; if not, it may be better to refer the question to another Science Shop or research institute through the national or international network. 

You can split up the research work in smaller parts; e.g. a student in chemistry describes the contents of some cosmetic products and a student in medical sciences reviews literature on toxicology and epidemiology. After their research, a student in communication studies can make a brochure. 

Students can also work in multi-disciplinary groups, if their time-schedules match. As an example, InterMediu Brasov did a project on Energy Planning for their city and used the following students in a half year time frame:

Topic

Department

Number

Year

Reason

Households Energy Use

Environmental Quality Control

3

Final

Diploma Project

Households Energy Use

Installation Engineering

1

Final

Volunteer

Households Energy Use

Environmental Quality Control

15

Final

Practical Placement

Households Energy Use

Automotive Engineering

2

Final

Master Program

Households Energy Use

Civil Engineering

2

Final

Diploma Project

Environmental Awareness

Sociology

2

First

Volunteer

Environmental Awareness

Natural Sciences

1

Final

Volunteer

Traffic Planning

Automotive Engineering

1

Ph.D.

Professional

To organise this large project, a matrix was made of all relevant disciplines, and their periods for practical placements, thesis's and professors (with even numbers of students to be placed if information was available).

You can also make the project larger, since if e.g. a theoretical component is missing, it is not suitable for a master thesis. The Chemistry Shop Groningen was asked for a risk assessment of a large windmill park next to chemical storage site and transportation route, which meant a lot of calculation work but no methodological development. In discussion with the research group supervising the student, the project was enlarged with a comparison between this risk and the risk of an equally large gas-fired electricity plant. Comparing local and global (CO2) risks was seen as more complicated and scientific. The student worked for 3 months on the case and for three months on the theory. The client was happy with the case results, and the research group with the total package. For the student, it was a complete learning experience.

Also the Interacts report gives some examples from an environmental, health and social science project on how the research question was developed.

To top

3.2 How can we involve students in our projects?

Students can do the project as part of their curriculum (for course credit which counts towards their diploma or degree), work for you as paid assistant, or voluntary.

Credits:
Projects can be part of an existing course or practical period (the teacher of that course or practical period will have to agree that the students work on a real life case). Projects can also be done as a BSc/BA, MSc/MA or PhD thesis. The supervisor has to agree.
In some cases, project work can be done as an "optional course" for a number of credits. This depends on the structure of the curriculum. See EnRRICH for details.

Paid work:
In some cases, students can get a job as assistant quite easily; in general this may be cheaper than a professional researcher, but the main advantage is that they can be hired for short and/or part-time periods. If you are not part of university, you may be able to hire students as interns and pay a small intern-reimbursement to them.

Voluntary:
This works only in some cases. In general, students nowadays have to finish their studies in a limited time and moreover they need a side-job to make a living. Sometimes, recently graduated or temporarily unemployed ex-students do want a job as volunteer, to maintain their working experience. Also early retired professionals may be willing to work a few days a week as volunteer.
Note that service learning (community-based learning) programmes, such as those in US universities, are now entering the curricula in the UK and may also develop in the rest of Europe. Students can volunteer as part of the curriculum and could conduct small scale research projects as part of their internship.

To top

3.3 What are the contributions to student competencies?

From Science Shop projects, students gain various competencies that are not easily obtained otherwise.

Social competences: Awareness of the role of science in society, political/policy awareness, communication skills (including communication to non-scientists).

Scientific competences: Project definition, work planning, working in a transdisciplinary setting, and various new knowledge about certain topics.

In general, a Science Shop project is an experience in problem-based learning and adds to a problem-solving attitude with students.

To top

3.4 How can we get professors to supervise our projects?

For a professor, supervising a project may be a part of his/her teaching obligation (professors have to supervise writing master's thesis's anyway). You can make it interesting for them by showing how it fits in their research programme (which takes some insight in research at your university), and by the fact that they will have access to data supplied by the client (if applicable), or by showing that it is a nice case which is "hot" in public attention. You can make it easy for them by co-supervising the project and taking care for the project process (taking some of the workload), or even by doing part of the editorial work on the student's report yourself as a Science Shop coordinator. Of course, if you have a budget you will have even more arguments to get them involved.

To top

3.5 How can we get researchers to work on our projects?

You can make it interesting for them by showing how it fits in their research programme (which takes some insight in research at your university), and by the fact that they will have access to data supplied by the client (if applicable), or by showing that it is a nice case which is "hot" in public attention. You can make it easy for them by doing part of the editorial work on their report yourself.

Of course, if you have a budget you will have even more arguments to get them involved.

To top